I always tell my students to take the path of least resistance. I believe that tension in one area can permeate through your entire body if you have a tension-laden approach to drumming.
Not only does bad technique make it more of an effort to play the drums, but it can hurt you as well – sometimes enough to stop you from playing altogether.
I have seen these problems come up with various students through the years. These patterns make it clear that drummers are risking injury by continuing to play with bad posture or technique.
The types of injuries from bad technique can range from your wrist and forearm all the way up to your shoulder. Tension is especially notorious for causing problems not only in the trouble area, but beyond that as well. Some drummers pinch the stick too hard, and others seem to have a disconnection between their fingers and the moving stick.
A tense grip is usually responsible for technique-related injuries, but that’s not always the case. You could harbor tension in your shoulders, which then affects your forearm or wrist. According to kinesiology professor Dr. Nadia Azar, the combination of repetition and force can cause injuries like tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
“Excessive muscle tension reduces blood flow to the muscles. As a result, less oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the muscle and less waste is removed, which leads to fatigue. Positioning your joints away from their neutral/resting position places additional stress on your tissues (such as pinching or overstretching) and puts your muscles at a mechanical disadvantage by reducing the amount of force they can produce, so they fatigue more quickly.”
While repetition is unavoidable for drummers (take regular breaks while practicing to lower your risk of injury), you can prevent many problems by using less force. It’s key to work on releasing the tension wherever it emanates from. I use specific exercises to bring about a high tuned awareness and slowly shift the body to give it a more relaxed approach.
Make sure your fingers follow the stick as it moves. Repositioning the stick can also make a difference. I use the Moeller method for better fluidity from your shoulder (ball and socket) down to your elbow (hinge) and wrist (hinge). Building choreography that complements the mechanics of your body – combined with using balance, bounce and gravity to ‘let the stick play you’ – will make it easier to play with less tension.
You can read more about this (and see a video demonstration) in the article “How To Fix Bad Drum Technique”.
Seating posture can be crucial to one’s health. Poor posture – along with muscle tension – can lead to other issues such as lower back problems, shoulder problems, and possibly hip problems. According to Dr. Azar, “When your postural muscles (e.g. the ones that help you sit up straight and keep your shoulder blades back and down) are fatigued, it becomes much more difficult to maintain proper posture, so your mechanics begin to suffer. And again, positioning your joints away from their resting position can cause problems. Not only can these things potentially lead to an injury, it can also cause your performance quality to suffer – and no one wants that!”
Not only should you position yourself for better posture, you should set up your drums as ergonomically as possible. Think of the drum set as an extension of your body. When you sit down, your legs should be evenly spaced and your feet resting comfortably just ahead of your knees. Start with your throne, pedals, and snare drum. Make the adjustments you need to be comfortable, which means everything is easily accessible so you don’t need to reach, twist or strain.
When sitting at the kit, have your hips higher than your knees, so when lifting each leg it doesn’t come above the hip and strain your lower back. You should also have the ankle slightly in front of the knee to open up the range of motion to the ankle. If you have your ankle directly below your knee, try pulling your toes toward your shin. It’s not very comfortable. Now, place your ankle slightly in front of the knee – you’ll find that you have an easier flex back.
The sooner you can get your technique and posture to the place of least resistance, the more likely it is that you’ll have many more years of drumming ahead of you.
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